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"In 1970 I found little difficulty staying 30 years ahead of the man in the street, and now I find it difficult to stay 18 months ahead of the man on the street."
- Vernor Vinge

Powergun  
  A directed energy weapon.  

The Powergun, an effective and deadly directed energy weapon, operates by converting metallic atoms directly into energy, by passing them through a "proper combination of heat, pressure, and intersecting magnetic fields". Often made of iridium, Powerguns used "copper-cobalt charge in a... polyurethane wafer" as ammo.

"[Danny] Pritchard grinned like a death's head, laying his 2 cm automatic on the rim of the hill and squeezing off. The motor whirred, spinning the barrels as rock and vegetation burst in the blue-green sleet. Spent cases, gray and porous, spun out of the mechanism in a jet of coolant gas...

"Danny swung his hose toward the grove of trees, the only landmark visible on the hilltop. His burst laced it cyan. Water, flash heated within the boles by the gunfire, blew the dense wood apart in blasts of steam and splinters."

From Hammer's Slammers, by David Drake.
Published by Ace Books in 1979
Additional resources -

Because of the heat created, the weapon also had to hold a reservoir of liquid nitrogen to cool it down. Powerguns ranged from small arms to tank cannons.

When the principle had been discovered, it remained only to refine its destructiveness. Experiments were held with different fuel elements and matrix materials. A copper-cobalt charge in a wafer of microporous polyurethane became the standard, since it appeared to give maximum energy release with the least tendency to scatter. Because the discharge was linear, there was no need of a tube to channel the force as a rifle's barrel does; but some immediate protection from air-induced scatter was necessary for a hand-held weapon. The best barrel material was iridium. Tungsten and osmium were even more refractory, but those elements absorbed a large component of the discharge instead of reflecting it as the iridium did.

Thanks to Gatomon41 for adding this reference, and to Winchell Chung for adding to it (see his material and more at Project Rho: Sidearms: Energy Weapons).

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Additional resources:
  More Ideas and Technology from Hammer's Slammers
  More Ideas and Technology by David Drake
  Tech news articles related to Hammer's Slammers
  Tech news articles related to works by David Drake

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